Standing Room Only

by Sandy Franco on Jan 01, 2001

Staging a promotional campaign is no easy sale for most health clubs. Here are some surefire ways to sell out your next event, class or program.

What key items should you examine to ensure success with promotional sales programs? Review the following to see how well your fitness facility’s events are organized. Timing. Timing is everything. You will be able to evaluate your programs more objectively if you implement a one-year calendar plan. Space your promotional events appropriately. Allow some downtime between classes. Many large clubs offer too much too soon, which can leave your staff burned out and your members overwhelmed. Inevitably, participation will dwindle. Create excitement and anticipation. You want members asking when the next program begins.

Consider the time of the year when planning. Make sure the timing complements, not competes with, your program. For example, launching weight-loss classes during the holiday season may not be the best idea. Check the community calendar and compare it to your facility calendar. What other activities or events are taking place in the area that could affect participation in your program?

Once you have selected a date for a particular facility event, be sure to set aside enough time to make it happen with your available staff. You will need a minimum of two weeks for promotion and sign-up time. If you are trying to solicit sponsors for the event, then allow six to eight weeks for a response. Remember that sponsors usually need time to get internal approvals.

Fees. To charge or not to charge, that is the question. At our facility, we made the mistake of offering everything for free to our members. Three things happened: First, members became programmed to think everything was free and got upset when we charged them. Second, members did not always take advantage of programs and classes offered for free. Third, people would sign up but not show up. Most people feel committed to something when financially obligated to it. Sign-up sheets, R.S.V.P. lists and registration forms have no validity when not accompanied with some type of payment.

For example, we initiated a free promotion called “Ladies Day Out,” which was designed exclusively for women and included a fashion show, lunch, frozen daiquiris and even a band. Typically, 300 women would sign up, but only 100 would show up. Not only were we disappointed in the turnout but the waste of food, drinks and staff wages was costly. We could not afford this kind of loss, so we had to decide whether to cancel the annual event or start charging for it.

We decided to keep Ladies Day Out, sell tickets for $15 each and limit sales to the first 250 women. The results were dramatic: We sold out tickets in two days with a waiting list of over 100 names! Once we placed a value on the event, our members recognized it. Ladies Day Out is now a substantial revenue-generator for us.

These days we offer just one free event during the first weekend of each summer. “Member Appreciation Day” is a way for us to acknowledge our customers’ ongoing patronage. This day is worth our time and effort.

Organization. Once you have determined the timing and fees, you will want to organize the whole occasion. We use an “Event Information Sheet” to remember and track important details, including sponsors, ad revenue, expenditures, dates, participants and so forth. Either design your own sheet or use the one provided in this article. After the sheet is complete, go through the accompanying “Event Checklist” to better prepare for your big day.

Promotion. Launching a successful event means good marketing and promotion. First, remember to “think outside of the box.” Marketing and advertising for most of us means putting up fliers, yet most of our members suffer from “flier blindness”—unless there’s one on the back of the bathroom stall door, nobody will read it.

In my experience, the best marketing ideas are nontraditional. Recently, I have been using the “P” approach—that is, props, posters, photographs, postcards, press releases, prizes, phone calls and, of course, people! Here’s why:

  • Props are a sure way to draw attention, especially if they support your event. For example, if you are trying to promote a boot camp class, go to an army surplus store and rent or purchase camouflage nets, cargo trunks and helmets. Set up a mini-stage that will display your props.

  • Posters will inform your members after the props get them to pay attention. Place posters and signs on easels near the props to promote your event. I’ve found that corrugated board (24" × 36") works best. Announce all the details about the event on the posters and signs. If you have an eating area in your facility, tabletop displays also serve as attention-getters.

  • Photos always attract a good deal of curiosity. Members love seeing themselves on display. If the event is brand-new, take plenty of pictures to use with next year’s promotion.

  • Postcards are an extremely effective way to announce your program, especially if mailed out 10 to 14 days in advance. They are usually read and allow you to target a specific market. If you are promoting a children’s event, for example, be sure to address the card to the child. The parents and child will both read the card.

  • Press releases are a great low-cost approach to promotion, particularly if you’re trying to reach nonmembers. Keep them simple—include the who, what, when, where and how. Press releases are not necessarily the place to promote your business; simply positioning yourself as the host site is the best approach. List the event address, a contact name, and telephone numbers to call for more information. If available, submit a photo as well.

  • Prizes are popular no matter how big or small. Never underestimate the power of a simple T-shirt or squeeze bottle. Most members will go to great lengths to win such items. Try to get your prizes donated—the exposure you can offer area businesses is usually worth it to the owners. You may even know members who might want to advertise their services. At our facility, members have offered floral arrangements, maid services and limo rides.

  • Phone calls to previous event participants are an effective way to gain enrollment in your new program. First, you already know the individuals are interested in a certain type of program. Second, a phone call from you or a staff member will seem like a personal invitation from your club.

  • People, of course, are the mainstay of any event. The excitement that your staff exhibits before, during and after a class can be the element critical to the success of future programs. Your group exercise instructors should be encouraged to make enthusiastic announcements about special upcoming events before their classes begin. Personal trainers and fitness staff should wear buttons promoting the event.

Customize. You know your members and your facility best. At Franco’s, our Member Appreciation Day was incredible! The theme was a beach party, so our staff donned Hawaiian shirts and swim wear. We hung beach balls throughout the club and played surf music in our weight room. The front desk staff handed out leis.

Get the picture? By following a few simple steps, never again let your events, programs and classes turn up empty.

IDEA Fitness Manager, Volume 13, Issue 1

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About the Author

Sandy Franco

Sandy Franco IDEA Author/Presenter

Sandy Franco is owner of Franco’s Athletic Club in Mandeville, Louisiana. An international presenter at fitness industry events, she has 25 years’ experience in sales and promotions. Contact Franco at (504) 792-0200 or